Traveling with Electronics : An iOS Update & The Digital Dilemma


.....nothing in the digital domain has a shelf life 



Last month my good friend DJ Ultraviolet was at the house for dinner and we were talking about the possibility of putting together a beat based project using ipads as the main instrumernts - we had played together before in a laptops & turntables trio with CK Barlow called The Useless Eaters - now he was interested in moving to an ipad rig. This got me thinking about all of the shifts that I have witnessed in music production : from hardware to computers - from computers to laptops and now from laptops to ipads. The shift from laptops to ipads started (for me anyway), in the fall of 2012 and if you take a look around, you will see that a shift is indeed well underway. 

  ARP 2600 : I met this big box of magic in 1973

This also got me thinking about how much technology has changed music - music creation and even the concept of what a musical instrument is. More than ever we are experiencing how fast technology is changing and changing everything around us. I remember as a studio trombonist in L.A. while in my early 20's, hearing the old timers hanging out at the union hall (local 47), talking about how these synthesizers were going to put us all out of work. It was in fact a chance encounter with an ARP 2600, during a break on one of those L.A. Horns sessions, that started me on this life long love affair, using electronics in music, especially with acoustic instruments. 


pigtronix infinity - zoom ms70cdr - boss dd20 - fulltone ocd - dod fx17 - bat ritual/pharaoh - ehx slammi -         modified national lapsteel

My current LapSteel performance rig (minus the guitar) fits in a Pelican 1510 carryon case. In contrast, my Electric Trombone/Synthesizer rig from 1981 which fit in a case that looked allot like this. I used to drag it around New York stuffed into the back seat of a checker cab, and all of this gear was stuffed inside the big black box.



A transducer pickup in the mouthpiece of the trombone went into a boss ge10 equalizer (to remove all harmonics), which went into a korg pitch to voltage converter, which controlled an sms voice400 synthesizer


A small dynamic microphone inside the bell of the horn went into an mxr distortion+, mutron 2 phaser, ada flanger


The output of the effects chain (distion/phaser/flanger), and the output of the synth (v400), went into a roland re-301 chorus echo tape delay with sound-on-sound looping capability - the stereo out from the 301 went into a furman pq6 stereo parametric equalizer and then into two polytone mini brute amplifiers on stage


roland sp404sx - focusrite scarlett 2i2 - powered usb hub - ipad 2 - akai mpk mini

My current sampling/live-sampling rig which fits in a backpack


If you are interested in joining this shift into the world of ios music production, here are some things you need to know and some links to some useful sites for more information and further resources. If you think that ipads aren't the next "instrument" to enter the world of music production, check out this interesting fact about Audiobus (the app that has really allowed this shift to gain traction).

"It’s that tracking that let us see just what implementing Audiobus has done for those compatible apps: just in the first few months of 2014, we sold almost a third of a million dollars worth of third-party apps through our compatible apps directory, which is staggering." Michael Tyson 

My best advice is to research-research-research. As always I hope that the information I provide in this blog assists you on your musical journey into the creative.


Android vs iPad : It appears that because of "latency issues" inherent in the Android, the iPad is the only option for audio/music production.....for now.


Which Model iPad : Like all things digital it's "louder faster more" - so get the fastest unit with the most storage that you can afford and know that it's obsolete as soon as you open the box. Apple likes to roll out the next big thing every fall, so do your research before you buy anything - sometimes being first on the block isn't so smart.

***iOS8 is causing massive problems accross the board - do not upgrade yet - 9/23/14 



Essential Apps : It is staggering, the number of truly powerful music apps that are available with more showing up monthly, and compared to the cost of music software for computers or vintage hardware, well lets just say that it has never been this accessible. I'm going to start with my list of essential apps which work for what I like to do with sonics in real-time. 

1 - AUDIOBUS : If there is a single app/developer responsible for the ability of ios to compete with laptop based systems it has to be this one. Going here every few days (COMPATIBLE APPS), will keep you up on the latest apps hitting the street or getting updates. If an app isn't on this list, it simply can't be used with your other apps in any fluid way, and if an app is on this list but doesn't support ios8, you can say goodbye to it and the money you spent on it once the dust settles - you need to understand that once a developer puts an app on the market it is thier responsibility to update it, everytime apple pulls the "louder-faster-more" shell game. Going here every week or so (FORUM), and checking out the conversations is one of the best resources out there for information on ios/apps/develpers - well worth a look. Absolutely Essential  

2 - SAMPLR : This was the app that made me close my laptop and drop 4 gigs of samples I had created over the years into my ipad. You can see my review here. The thing that sets this app apart from other samplers (apps - software - hardware), is the interface - the finesse and nuance that you can draw from it, puts it in the realm of the musical instrument (imho).

3 - LOOPY HD : A simple solid multi (6/9/12) loop app with great midi implimentation. Loops can be synced or free and multiple loops can be of different lengths. Michael Tyson of "A Tasty Pixel" is the man behind Loopy and half of the duo responsible for AudioBus - Wow - Check out this very cool story of how and where, it was created.

4 - THUMBJAM : This is a sample playback performance app. Great samples - up to 8 instruments can be played at once (4 from the interface and 4 more via midi) - simple multi-track looper - a huge selection of scales, plus a mono pitch to midi converter that allows you to play an internal voice from an audio input. Again though, what really makes this app a joy to play is the interface. Here is a review of this wonderful instrument.  

These 4 apps are the foundation of my sampling/live-sampling rig at this point in time, but I am holding one more slot open (5 - ?????) for an app, still in beta that I have grown very fond of. More on this one when I can - you can count on that!


Now lets look at a few more interesting apps :

Editing & File Management : I consider both of these essential



Drums, Percussion & Beat Production : My favorites





Synthesizers : I don't use synths much but I like these two



Audio Processing : My 3 favorites plus 1 thats about to drop 




 "coming soon"..... this looks interesting FLUX FX

Multi-Track Recorders / DAWS : I have not stepped into this arena yet as I am on a 16 gig iPad 2 with 4 gigs of samples in it, but these are the 3 apps you see the most.




Resources : As well as the AudioBus Forum link above, here are links to more information about ios music production - remember.....research.

The Sound Test Room - Sonic Touch - Discchord - Music App Blog - Palm Sounds - iOS Mars - Smitematter - Synthtopia - I'm missing some, but this will get you started.


The Old In & Out : When you realize that the ipad was basically designed to sell you more questionable stuff and that it was really the app developers who turned it into a creative tool for many artistic endevors (music being but one), you then discover that getting things like 24bit 96k audio and realtime midi data in and out of this thing was not very high on the design list. Add to that the fact that Apple keeps changing the physical size of the thing and you've got a third party support product HPN (huge pointless nightmare).


All this to say, I am going to leave the whole audio/midi interface can of worms out of this posting and wish you all the best of luck in your research on the subject. I will add that I am having great success with an iPad 2 running ios7 using a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface and an Akai mpk mini usb/midi controller, both getting in and out of the ipad via a Belkin powered usb hub and the Apple Camera Connection Kit, which takes care of everything except keeping the iPad charged.


Which brings us to the great digital dilemma. Those of you who recognize any of the following terms will know what I'm talking about : floopy disks - two megs of ram - scsi port - jaz drive - corrupted data - magneto optical drive - the continuing migration of data - back ups of the back ups.

Nothing in the Digital Domain Has a Shelf Life. How you choose to deal with that fact is up to you, but if the presence of a "restore purchases" button on some of your apps doesn't give you pause to consider the not too subtle difference between "ownership" and "access", then by all means, have another big glass of that yummy "Cloud Kool-Aid" the folks down at the lab are fixin' for ya - it's all gonna be fine.

...this ios8 looks delicious  

Until next month then

safe travels.....dino